Monday, September 12, 2005

The Question of Evil

One of the questions people inevitably ask in the wake of a horrendous natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina is how a good God could allow such things to happen. The genre of theological reasoning which attempts to answer such questions is called theodicy. In recent years theologians have had great success in attacking the classical form of the "argument from evil," which states that the existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of an all-powerful, good God. Theologians have successfully demonstrated that much of the evil in the world is the result of free will, and established the possibility that free will may ultimately be a greater good than all of the evil it causes. As the debate stands today, the question is not so much whether a good God might permit some evil, but rather why does God permit so much of it? And why does it always seem to happen to the wrong people? Further, what about natural disasters, which are beyond the control of human beings? Why doesn't God, for instance, whisk everyone out of the way when a hurricane is about to strike? Or why don't angels sound audible alarms from heaven? The argument from anti-theists is that the amounts and kinds of evil we actually find in the world make the existence of an all-powerful, good God seem implausible.
I believe that a successful response to this argument must hinge on a defense of the kind of world God created. We might start with G.K. Chesterton's rejoinder, what about the problem of pleasure? Why, the corpulent man of letters wondered, is life so enjoyable? If the non-theist can imagine a world which is far better than this one, the theist can easily imagine one which is much worse! If we begin to examine the world to learn what about it is so enjoyable, we will find there is a paradox to pleasure: it is often dangerous. If we take God to have "made" waterfalls, then God is also responsible for the possibility of being crushed by them. The same goes for the beauty of mountains, which are beautiful in part because they are high enough to fall to your death from. Lions and tigers would not be as glorious if they lacked the spirit and capability of devouring their prey (a lion fed manna by angels would be a disappointment.) What is this sense of intrigue and delight which is both thrilling and dangerous? I believe that it is close to the spirit of science itself. Adventure, discovery, and transformation, require a universe with enough heft, enough density and complexity, to make the journey worthwhile. Not only that but in that process there is always a sense of risk - a self-giving, self-sacrificing willingness to take chances in order to take that next step. For every "something more," there's a "something less," or at least the possibility of it, a natural ebb and flow which is close to the flesh and bone of science itself.
Would we give up the awesome power of hurricanes if we could know for sure that no one would ever be killed or injured by one? What else would we be prepared to give up - how child-proofed would we want God to make the universe - if it meant guaranteeing everyone's safety and security? Or isn't it the case that there's something to love in this creation, some gut response to the sheer power and beauty and even love we find in nature, even when it kills us?

1 comment:

powerkor said...

There is beauty in alot of things and in alot of ways on earth. It would be a pretty dull place if everyone was safe and everything went just right. In fact, I'm pretty sure there would be people trying to hurt themselves just for the thrill of trying to do something that was impossible... Without danger, without death... life wouldn't be worth trying to improve upon.

To love to live, you accept all the possibilities, even the ones you can't predict